Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tends to run in families, so it’s common for both parent and child to struggle with the disorder. Naturally, this can create unique challenges when it comes to parenting.
“Having ADD and parenting a child with ADD has been one of the most difficult challenges in my life,” said Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and coach who specializes in ADHD and is founder and director of ADDConsults.com. Matlen’s daughter has ADHD and other special needs. She frequently hears from parents with ADHD who also worry about their ability to parent.
Sometimes, parenting can feel like “the blind leading the blind,” Matlen said. For instance, it might seem next to impossible to teach your child the very skills you struggle with. “If I have trouble organizing my space, how do I teach my child organizational skills? If I’m always dashing at the last minute, how do I teach my child better time management skills?” Matlen said.
But there are many strategies that can help. Here are 21 parenting tips that help you minimize stress, parent effectively and maintain a good relationship with your child.
1. Identify your challenges, and find solutions that work for you.
Pinpoint the problems your child is having and determine how you can help. For instance, homework has been a challenge for Matlen’s daughter. After a full day at school, she just didn’t have the mental energy to complete more assignments at home. Combine that with Matlen’s own exhaustion after her long days, and homework became a battle that started to chip away at their relationship.
To solve the problem, Matlen hired someone to help her daughter with homework several times a week. But as she got older, this, too, proved ineffective, so Matlen went back to the drawing board. “Because [my daughter] has ADD and a variety of special needs, I put in her IEP that her homework was to be done during school hours — when she was well medicated and had the structure she needed in order to sit still and focus. That may not work for all kids, but it was a miracle solution for us.”
2. Get creative.
Matlen uses a variety of novel strategies to remind her daughter about chores and other responsibilities. For instance, she used to write reminders on her daughter’s bathroom mirror. Now she uses a Boogie Board, an electronic writing tablet, for school-related reminders.
3. Ask your kids for tips.
Traditional reinforcement tactics like sticker rewards usually don’t work with kids with ADHD because they get bored easily, Matlen said. But it can be hard coming up with new strategies all the time, she said. She suggested simply asking your child what they think would work. “It’s amazing how well kids can come up with solutions if we just give them the opportunity to do so.”
4. Create visual cues.
Visual cues are very effective for people with ADHD. For instance, Matlen has made poster-sized lists for her daughter, which clearly lay out the steps to clean her room.
When her daughter forgets to speak softly and slams doors—Matlen is extra sensitive to loud noises—Matlen uses hand signals to remind her to lower her voice. What also helps is lowering your own voice, because kids usually match their parent’s tone.
5. Create consistency.
Both Matlen and ADHD expert Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, underscored the importance of structure and consistency. Adults benefit greatly from this, too, since managing time and being organized are challenges, Matlen said. “Keeping each day as structured as possible will lessen the stress for all.”
6. Explain expectations ahead of time.
“Children with ADHD need to know parental expectations ahead of time,” said Sarkis, who’s also the author of Adult ADD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed and Making the Grade with ADD. For instance, before going to the grocery store, explain to your child how they need to act and positively reinforce proper behavior, she said.
7. Praise your child.
According to Sarkis, “In an ideal world, the ratio of positive statements to negative statements should be 6 to 1.” In other words, if you criticize your child once, you should praise them at least six times.
8. Take care of yourself.
“Most parents spend so much time and energy helping their kids that they neglect their own needs,” said Matlen, also author of Survival Tips for Women with ADHD and founder and director of the website MomsWithADD.com.
“If you aren’t taking good care of yourself, it is difficult to take care of anyone else,” Sarkis said. Taking good care of yourself includes getting proper treatment (seeing a therapist who specializes in ADHD and taking medication, if recommended by your doctor), getting enough sleep and being active.
9. Adjust your expectations about your child.
Both Matlen and Sarkis suggested parents create more realistic expectations and let the small stuff go. For instance, Matlen doesn’t mind when her daughter’s room is messy or she’s forgotten to wash her hair. Her house rules focus on safety and health.
“Decide which household rules are non-negotiable, and which you can let go,” Sarkis said. Holding your hand while crossing the street is non-negotiable. But fidgeting while completing homework isn’t a big deal. In fact, many kids with ADHD can’t sit still while doing homework, Sarkis said. As long as the homework gets done, who cares if they need to keep moving?